independent

Wednesday 21 November 2018

THE SCORPION

Walter O’Brien during the Scorpion press conference at Comic-Con in San Diego in July
Walter O’Brien during the Scorpion press conference at Comic-Con in San Diego in July

Niamh Keegan

Ballymackessy near Clonroche is the unlikely starting point for a major new blockbuster TV series to be aired by leading American channel CBS.

'Scorpion', which will launch next month, is based on the true life story of computer genius Walter O'Brien, who grew up on a farm in the Co. Wexford townsland and went on to become one of the world's leading experts in artificial intelligence.

Ranked fourth most intelligent person in the world, 39-year-old Walter is now a billionaire who lives in California. He is the son of Maurice (originally from Cushinstown) and Anne O'Brien (née Ronan), a native of New Ross. Walter is the second of a family of five.

Boro Hill House near Clonroche was Walter's childhood home until the age of 13, when they moved to Rosshaven, near Callan in Kilkenny.

The bright spark started off his schooling at St Patrick's National School in Courtnacuddy and in 1987 went on to the CBS in Enniscorthy. His love of computers began when basic computer classes called 'Turtle Logo course' were brought to his primary school.

Not surprisingly, the gifted youngster excelled when he sat his Leaving Cert at St Kierans's College in Kilkenny – yet despite his world ranking intelligence, he only scraped a pass in Irish, which seems to have had no lasting impact on his remarkable career.

Walter, who never had a computer lesson in his life, was a self-taught child prodigy who, when not yet in his teens, sold some livestock his father had given him in payment for his farm chores, to buy his first personal computer – an Amstrad model popular at the time.

At 13 years of age, he used that computer to hack into NASA's network, which resulted in him returning home from school one day to find the family farm surrounded by black cars, his mother in tears and suited men with American accents shouting at him. In what seems like science fiction, the little genius managed to strike a deal with the US officials to sign an extradition waiver so that he could show them the pitfalls in their own network.

Tested at the age of 14 years, Walter was diagnosed as a child prodigy with an IQ score of 197. To put that into context, Albert Einstein's IQ was 165.

Walter is said to be personally responsible for catching the Boston bombers by writing an algorithm that tracked motion on all the cameras within a two mile radius of the blast.

In 1988, and barely in his teens, the child prodigy set up Scorpion Computer Services, initially offering tutoring and other courses to individuals and companies but which today specialises in everything from risk management to security for clients including the US military, and currently employs over 2,000 geniuses from all around the world with a turnover per annum of over €1bn.

While studying for his Leaving Cert, the driven student was also immersed in studies for a degree in computer science and artificial intelligence at the University of Sussex, and was awarded honours.

At 18 years of age the brilliant young man captained the Irish team in an international computer problem solving competition in Argentina, as part of the 1993 International Informatics Olympiad, when he was ranked as sixth fastest programmer in the world.

Sought after by companies and governments the all over the world, he was certified as being of national interest to the United States economy in 2001 when he was granted a special visa for extraordinary ability – the same sort of visa awarded to Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill.

New Ross Standard

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